England’s Covid infection rates reach highest ever levels, major study finds

One in 17 school-aged children tests positive for Covid-19, Imperial College London research reveals

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Covid infections have reached their highest ever levels in England, according to a major study which has been tracking the virus since May 2020.

New data from the REACT coronavirus monitoring programme commissioned by the UK Health Security Agency show one in 58 people tested positive for the virus between October 19 and 29.

This rose to one in 17 for school-aged children.

It is more than double the infection rate seen in the study’s previous testing round in September, when one in 120 had the virus in England.

The latest phase of the study, led by Imperial College London, analysed swabs from more than 67,000 randomly selected people across the country.

It estimates that infections were highest on October 19 and 20, followed by a more recent fall.

Researchers said this was consistent with a pattern seen this time last year, when infections dropped at half term, after which they rapidly grew again.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “These very recent data show that infections are still very high, especially in school-aged children.

‘We need to stay vigilant’

“We continue to find that households with children have a higher prevalence of infection, indicating that children could be driving up infection rates by spreading the virus to others in their homes.

“The vaccination programme in children ages 12 and above should help control infection rates in children of secondary school age, helping to ensure their education does not suffer due to the impact of the pandemic.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Today’s report sends an important message that we need to stay vigilant as we head into the winter months.

“Vaccines continue to be our first line of defence against this disease and it is crucial we all get jabbed to keep the virus at bay.

“Whether you have yet to receive your first dose, second dose or if you are eligible for your booster jab – the best thing you can do is get vaccinated to protect yourself and those around you.”

Infections higher in households with children

The study found the highest prevalence in children aged five to 12, at one in 17, (5.9%), followed by secondary school-aged children aged 13 to 17 at 5.8%.

While over-75s had one of the lowest infection rates, at 0.7%, this was double the rate seen in the previous round of testing.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Although the number of hospitalisations and deaths remain lower than in previous peaks, these findings are a powerful reminder that the pandemic is far from over and remains a serious threat to health and wellbeing.

“This new data strongly reinforces the need for all eligible age groups to get vaccinated and to take mitigating measures such as wearing a face covering in crowded places and ensuring good ventilation indoors.

“This is particularly urgent for older people whose immunity may be waning given that several months have passed since they received their jabs.

“I strongly encourage everyone who is eligible for a third dose or a booster shot to come forward without delay.”

Highest infection rates in South West

The South West had the highest infection rate at 2.2% - four times higher than in the previous round.

Since the last round, infections rose across all areas except Yorkshire and The Humber.

Looking at the most recent data only, there has been a fall in prevalence in East Midlands, East of England and the South West.

The study also read the viral genetic code of 126 positive samples from this round, finding that all were the Delta variant.

One in 10 of these were the AY.4.2 sub-variant, dubbed Delta Plus, which is being monitored by the authorities.

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed and will soon report on its findings up to early November.

It is different from the Office for National Statistics Covid-19 Infection Survey which runs continuously and samples the same people over time to understand household transmission.